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Saturday, January 22, 2005

Jail Bypass

Courtesy of nutz'so:

It seems the courts, at least in this particular jurisdiction, are getting smarter.

This article states that an average of 20% of jailed inmates have a history of mental illness. I understand that the jail population of the United States is at an all time high and is constantly growing. Keeping a correction facility running is an expensive proposition. And the more crowded they are, the more institutional violence there will be (simply due to the powder keg effect), and the more learned criminalization will occur. We teach our inmates to be better criminals in such environments. I also believe that in overcrowded conditions, simply due to practical considerations, some may be granted parole when they are really borderline cases.

By reducing, potentially up to 20%, the population of correctional facilities, this allows the jails to do more effectively what they were designed to do: to both punish and to rehabilitate (if possible).

But criminal matters with regards to mental health are not necessarily cut and dried issues.

A quick perusal of google shows that Toronto's had this kind of set up for some time. I remember watching a great show on the CBC last fall called "This Is Wonderland", a show set in Toronto's Old City Hall Courts. The storylines that would touch on the mental health courts could be hilarious, but also heartbreaking.

I remember watching one episode where a man (aside: the same actor that played "Nobody" in the movie Dead Man with Johnny Depp) was on trial for assault against his bipolar common-law wife. She was refusing to take her medications and was entering psychotic mania. Her mate got physical with her in an attempt to restrain her. The neighbours called the cops. The man stood in the docket, calm, collected. His wife sat in the visitors benches, the stereotypical picture of a mentally ill woman: hair askew, shaking, eyes wide, darting, furtive movements. The Crown Attorney kept harping on how there was zero tolerance in our society for spousal abuse. The man calmly said how he didn't abuse her: he loved her and was trying to help her. It cut zero ice. He was sentenced to some jail time.

In the hall, his wife caught up with the defense attorney.

"What am I going to do without him?" she pleaded. "I need him. He helps me with everything. Without him I can't remember to take my medication. What am I going to do without him?"

No one had any answer for her.

It was a very intense show.

Jailing the mentally ill is rarely appropriate (violent behaviour being the likely exception). And I think the step toward mental health diversions rather than criminal court is a very healthy one indeed.

Blogger moodymicello said...
I agree that jailing the mentally ill is inappropriate - even the violent. The mentally ill person has not committed a misdemeanor or a felony, they have behaved inappropriately because their brain does not function properly. In other words, they did not necessarily set out to do something that they knew was wrong, had bad consequences, and did it anyway. They thought what they did was reasonable behavior; their brain didn't function like that of a normal person. Punishment is not the answer for a chemical imbalance. Mentally ill person must be treated with medications, therapy, and sometimes ECT. That's what psychiatric hospitals and programs are for. I think keeping them out of the jail system makes perfect sense. They belong where there is some hope of rehabilitation and jail surely means a chance of becoming more ill.  

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